A friend of mine recently got engaged, and she’s already exploring all aspects of her wedding planning with great gusto, including details as minute as the guest book, even though the wedding is over 1 year away. Then again, to a bibliophile such as she is (love you, Adi!), the wedding guest book is probably not as minute as it might seem to some!
Somehow or other, she came across this intriguing idea for creating a “DIY vintage wedding guest book” . The gist of the project is to take a “vintage” (aka old) book, cut the guts out of it, and insert your own blank pages for guests to write their names and share stories about the bride and groom.
As an archivist/librarian, part of me is of course horrified — mostly at the very idea (but also a little bit at the instructions for doing so). And another part of me is wishing I had thought of something cool like that for my own wedding a few years ago (mostly the part about asking the guests to write stories, not just their names – but I have to admit, a “vintage” guest book does sound – and would look – cool.)
I suppose I could turn a blind eye to the idea of cutting up an old book for the sake of an artsy piece of wedding memorabilia, as long as I felt like the book was one of many copies (both then, and still in existence) and was nothing particularly special, other than the cover looked cool and old. Even at that, my soul still wriggles around a little at the idea.
But my opinion on the, er, morality of cutting up an old book (*cringe*) is not what this blog post was meant to be about.
I sat down to write this with the intent to say: If you’re going to cut up an old book and put it back together with different insides a la this blog, I’d like to make a few suggestions to help you, uh, “do it right.”
Choosing your book. When you’re out at the used book store looking for a good candidate, obviously you’re going to be attracted to something that has a cool-looking cover. Because let’s face it, that’s why you’re doing this. But some other things to look for: make sure the spine of the book appears to be in relatively good shape (unlike the super-cracked one in the example). You want a spine in good shape, so you don’t have any trouble putting the book back together again.
Also, please, for the love of god, stay away from leather. It cracks when it gets old, and the book boards (covers) tend to fall off. Even if you find a leather covered book that looks in good shape now, it probably won’t be in the future. Plus, it might not survive your attempts to cut it up and put it back together.
Picking your paper. Make sure you get some good quality, acid-free paper to make your signatures (the gatherings of pages). Actually, the simplest thing would probably be to buy a pre-made text block like journal inserts from Talas (a good quality book-binding supply place). They come in different sizes. However, keep in mind that if you buy a pre-made text block, it might not fit in in the book you chose – the text block you take out and the one you put in need to be the same thickness for the book to go back together correctly.
Putting it all together. Is it just me, or does the text block in this example look a little flimsy? I give this person credit for sewing the signatures together. Although, she sewed them to cardstock instead of to each other; also, I would have sewn by hand not with a machine. I think the biggest no-no of all (once you get past the whole yanking the guts out of an old book thing) was using hot glue. It was the first thing that caught my eye: is that a hot glue gun? Yes…yes, it is. Instead [*yanks hot glue gun from her hand*], might I interest you in a lovely acid-free adhesive known as PVA?
We use PVA (such as Jade 403 from Talas) to do most of our adhesive work in book repairs, and that’s what I would recommend for this project. It’s pH-neutral and acid-free, and it stays flexible even after it’s dry.
(Just a note: we do use a layer of Japanese paper and wheat paste as the first layer stuck to the book block – becuase wheat paste is definitely reversible; PVA is not – once it’s stuck, it’s stuck. The PVA is used on all the other layers, none of which actually touch the text block directly. But I don’t think wheat paste is necessary in this case – you’ve already destroyed the original book anyway, no use worrying about whether your actions are “reversible.” Are you ever going to wish you could take your wedding guest book apart again? Probably not. Even if you get divorced, it might get tossed in the trash or the fire, but you wouldn’t take it apart piece by piece. Or maybe you would; if that’s the case, might want to use wheat paste in a few places! Otherwise, stick with PVA for this application.)
And finally, the step-by-step: I think this person did a pretty good job at explaining the steps of what she wants you to do, including providing lots of pictures. But if you want more pictures — and a more, ahem, archival way of completing the project — I would highly recommend you check out the Indiana University Library’s E. Lingle Craig Preservation Laboratory Repair and Enclosure Treatment Manual. They have step-by-step instructions for all kinds of archival and book repairs. Basically, what you are doing here is called a “recase” (once you have the two parts: the case and the new text block to insert). If you are making your own signatures (rather than getting a pre-made one) and you need instructions on how to sew them together, drop me a line and I’ll send you ours because I am having trouble finding a decent explanation of that on the Internet. (Feel free to share a link if you find one!)
Just one final reiteration: I’m not exactly endorsing the idea of, “Hey, go out and cut apart old books so you can replace their innards with something new of your own creation.” But if you must, please try to do it archivally, so your final product will be long-lasting and the old book will not have died in vain! 😉